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Did the Cindy Sheehan vigil succeed?

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Cindy Sheehan's month of fame - or infamy, depending on one's vantage point - is drawing to a close. The grieving mother of a US soldier slain in Iraq will end her vigil at the president's ranch on Wednesday, almost certainly having failed in her stated goal of a face-to-face meeting with Mr. Bush.

If nothing else, the spectacle she launched added an American point of focus to the larger tableau of bad news for the US effort in Iraq, dominated by a US military death toll approaching the symbolically significant 2,000-person mark, and faltering Iraqi efforts to draft a broadly acceptable constitution. For Bush, there's bad political news as well: a Gallup poll, released last Friday, showing the lowest job-approval rating (40 percent) of his presidency. Even among Republicans, support for Bush has hit an all-time low - albeit a still-high 82 percent. But overall, only 34 percent of Americans are satisfied with how things are going in this country, another low for Bush's 4-1/2 years in office, Gallup reports.

Ms. Sheehan's role in Bush's sagging numbers remains a matter of conjecture; skyrocketing gasoline prices cannot have helped. But Sheehan's galvanizing effect on both opponents and supporters of the Iraq war is beyond doubt, analysts say. Whether her vigil will prove to have been an irreversible turning point in antiwar efforts - and whether that movement can develop in a way that speaks broadly to many Americans, not just the fringes - probably depends on what happens in coming months.

To some observers, the Aug. 17 candlelight vigils organized by Moveon.org in some 1,600 cities to support Sheehan represented a new level of public engagement among those critical of the Iraq war.

"The vigils were something we hadn't seen in quite some time. It was a turning point, I think," says Todd Gitlin, a professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia University, noting large turnouts in cities like Salt Lake City, not just Democratic strongholds. "Something was afoot in its mainstreamness."

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